Transform Agents from Transaction Processors to Knowledge Workers
By Jay Minnucci
Service is delivered through people. Despite all the advanced technology and Six
Sigma processes that we institute in our contact centers, the frontline agent holds
the key to high-quality (and low-cost) service. Many of us have hundreds or even
thousands of agents, making it difficult to provide exceptional service on a consistent
basis. That challenge has led to common training programs, verbatim scripts and
goals centered on conformance—the white-collar version of mass production.
The objective is consistency, and there is nothing wrong with that. But along the
way, the position of contact center agent became rote and mundane. That dull, uninteresting
job role is an underlying cause of some of the more egregious problems we see in
contact centers. High attrition, low adherence and elevated absence rates can usually
be traced back (at least, in part) to a position that is about as glamorous as a
sack of potatoes.
Tackling those issues may be reason enough to take a second look at the role of
the agent. It is not, however, the only reason. Times change, and much of what we
do in contact centers has become more complex. Mass production, carried out by armies
of generic agents, may not be the right model moving forward. Mass customization,
delivered by engaged teams of knowledge workers, may well be the direction of the
Knowledge worker is more than just a term. It represents a change in how we view
the role of the agent (and by extension, the role of the contact center). The following
are just a few examples of how these differences show up in day-to-day activities
in the contact center:
In a transaction-processing environment: Defined almost entirely by metrics,
and the objectives are focused mainly on production and compliance.
In a knowledge-worker environment: Many objectives are qualitative and
centered on the ability to improve the organization. There may be some metrics,
but none are production types that encourage quick contact handling (calls per hour,
In a transaction-processing environment: Provide customers what they ask
for with answers based on scripts.
In a knowledge-worker environment: Focus on listening and asking questions
before providing any guidance or answers.
In a transaction-processing environment: Document the call so agents who
get calls in the future can better handle them.
In a knowledge-worker environment: Document the call and suggest revisions
to knowledge management systems and/or training as appropriate.
In a transaction-processing environment: Focused almost entirely on compliance—did
the agent do what was supposed to be done?
In a knowledge-worker environment: Focused on the ability to identify customer
needs and add to the organizational understanding of what customers want.
Knowledge management system
In a transaction-processing environment: Tool that all agents should use
to provide consistent answers.
In a knowledge-worker environment: Tool that allows agents to add expertise
that others can utilize.
Redefining the agent role from transactional processor to knowledge worker is a
strategic maneuver that touches virtually everything we do in our contact centers.
You will need to bring in the right resources and ensure that every position in
the contact center is adequately represented. All of the processes and pitfalls
that accompany any type of large-scale change management project apply. The high-level
steps that you will need to follow include:
Acknowledge it strategically: Recognize that it will impact every facet of
the organization, and pull in the people you need to ensure a smooth transition.
Start small: If you already isolate high-value contacts, you can treat these
teams as the "lab" to test changes to practices, metrics and other management tools
that better fit a knowledge worker environment.
Revise metrics: You do not need to abandon metrics as a measurement method,
but you will likely need to revise them and add in more qualitative measures.
Revamp people management tactics (coaching, training, job descriptions, hiring profiles
and compensation): These changes (and the revisions to metrics) are the
ones that have the most impact on the contact center floor.
The transformation does not have to happen overnight, nor will every agent be affected.
In the near future, though, at least some portion of most contact centers will need
to change, if only to keep pace with those we compete with for staffing. If it results
in better customer service and higher employee satisfaction, it will be a change
we can all live with.
SNAPSHOT — Frontier Communications
Continuous improvement and change management go hand in hand. People tend to fear
change, but for a continuous improvement culture to thrive, employees have to learn
how to embrace it. At Frontier Communications, change management is emphasized in
frontline training. Service and sales staff are provided with the skills and abilities
to adapt to change, but it's also about "choice"—a message that management
reinforces regularly in discussions with staff. Through its "I Choose Frontier"
training, sales and service staff learn how to approach change with a positive attitude.
That helps to drive the contact center's "I can" environment, which is driven by
proactive frontline consultants who are empowered to solve customers' issues during
the first call.
Read the full story here. (PDF)